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Hat Chat

Hat Chat

Now that spring has arrived, it’s time to pack away the woolly hats and put on some headwear with a bit more credibility in the fashion stakes. Fair Trade brand Pachacuti is a good place to start, with its latest collection of Panama hats.

Pachacuti means “world upside-down” in the Quechua language of the Andes. That’s not a bad encapsulation of founder Carry Somers’ endeavour to change the fashion industry from the inside out, based on her belief that it is possible for a company to be successful while simultaneously benefitting the environment and the producers.

It started with a research trip that Somers took to Ecuador in 1992. Shocked at the exploitation of textile producers, Somers returned to Ecuador after completing an MA in Native American Studies to work with two cooperatives, both of whom were victims of arson attacks. She provided them with the financial means to buy in bulk, and – despite no background in fashion – designed a knitwear collection that sold out in six weeks.

There’s more: after forgoing a pre-planned PhD in order to focus on creating sustainable, rural livelihoods for producer groups in the Andes, Somers was the victim of a huge theft as all of her profits and a substantial business loan were stolen by an armed robber, leading her to live in a van, subject to death threats, while she paid off her debts.

There’s no doubt that it was worth pursuing her dream though. Pachacuti’s pioneering Fair Trade brand preserves the rich textile heritage of the Andes and plays a significant part in bettering the quality of life for the local community, supporting Alcoholics Anonymous in the village and providing pensions and medical expenses for elderly weavers. Last year, Somers organised and funded a nursery for weavers’ children.

Carry Somers and Olivia Firth at the Sustainable City Awards 2013, where Pachacuti won Best Fashion Designer

The SS13 collection, showing at London, Paris and Milan Fashion Weeks, features hand-woven, hand-embroidered hat ribbons. By ensuring sustainability and the rightful remuneration for current weavers, as well as training a new generation in weaving techniques, Somers wants to make absolutely sure that the iconic Panama hat will still be going strong in the next century. Pachacuti is now also developing new collections of accessories, with their first ever bags available in the SS13 collection, produced for Livia Firth Designs and sold through Yoox.